Review: The NEAT Glass

George at Arsilica kinda sent me a pair of their new NEAT nosing glasses to test out. I’m a sucker for interesting glassware – I have to regularly restrain myself from taking my scotch as two fingers in a rocks glass, just for the Hollywood of it. Frankly, a rocks glass is demonstrably inferior to any tulip-shaped glass when it comes to concentrating the aromas and allowing your nose to pick up more individual notes than just “alcohol” and “whisky”.

The NEAT glass relies upon a number of scientific facts regarding the behavior of liquid vapor in an open container. Like my favorite Glencairn glass, its tulip-shaped body concentrates evaporated compounds at the narrow ‘neck’. Its squat, bulbous shape provides more surface area for evaporation (thus accelerating the release of volatile compounds and alcohol vapor) when filled to the widest point. Finally, its lip flares out to create an ‘expansion chamber’ to expel lighter-than-air alcohol vapor while leaving the heavier compounds (hopefully the esters, heavier alcohols, and wood extractives) hovering just above the neck for nosing. The company claims that this series of processes allows one to detect more aroma compounds with LESS alcohol burn (sometimes referred to as nose ‘tickle’).

To test out these claims, I gathered a Glencairn glass, a rocks glass (as control), and a NEAT glass. I filled each with an equal amount (about 1/2 ounce) of Ardbeg Corryvreckan. I wanted a powerful, peaty dram to provide lots of fodder for nosing. I also wanted something cask-strength (57.1% ABV) to test NEAT’s claims of lessening the nose tickle. I then allowed the drams to sit for a few minutes to rest. Now, the nosing:

Rocks Glass: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell… a vague hint of peat, a little campfire smoke, and barely any burn. I hold my nose as deep as I can inside the glass (about an inch from the liquid’s surface), and finally there’s some citrus notes and enough alcohol burn to make me back away. As expected, the glass delivers barely any individually discernible notes.

Glencairn: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell some nice oaky vanilla, round earthy peat, and no nose tickle at all. Tilting the glass and holding my nose about an inch from the liquid, I get a tidal wave of citrusy peat, soft maltiness, big caramel and vanilla, and enough alcohol in my sinuses to make me cough.

NEAT Glass: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell a hint of vanilla. No alcohol burn, but not even any peat. Tilting the glass and holding my nose about an inch from the liquid, I get… now this is interesting. There’s no alcohol burn at all. Instead, I get totally unexpected (although faint) notes of tangerine, mushroomy peat, rosewater, and lavender. It seems that the “sweet spot” is a little difficult to find. If I hold my nose ABOVE the glass, I get nothing. If I hold it just inside the rim, I get some faint aromas only. If I stick it in as far as I can (which requires holding my neck at an awkward angle), I get a series of very clear aromas without the usual muddled rush of alcohol and top-notes. It takes a little experimentation to find the right spot.

Conclusion: I’m actually a little confused. The rocks glass, as expected, is worthless. The Glencairn delivers the experience to which I have become accustomed: all of the aromas, big and bold, and a big plug of alcohol vapor right up my nose. It’s easy to get a snoot-full of alcohol burn, but you also get a lot of aromatic compounds in one big integrated jumble. The NEAT glass requires pinpointing the ‘sweet spot’ (which wasn’t where I expected to find it), and then does a surprising job of delivering toned-down but clear and crisp aromas to the nose without the distracting (or amplifying?) waft of alcohol vapor. The experience is actually a little unsettling: I smell vanilla, I smell peat, and I smell citrus, but I don’t smell Corryvreckan.

That brings me to my conclusion about nosing with the NEAT glass: it performs as advertised, but I wouldn’t recommend it in isolation. To truly get the full effect of any dram, you should use a NEAT glass to pick out individual notes… and then use a Glencairn to get the full experience, alcohol and all. That said, if you have a sensitive nose and have trouble getting past the alcohol vapor’s effect, the NEAT glass is tailor-made for you. Get a few of them NOW.

One bonus with the NEAT glass: its wide rim (which takes a little getting used to) does actually spill the whisky evenly over your tongue, thus hitting all parts of the palate at once, rather than channeling all of the liquid to the center of the tongue, where it doesn’t taste like much except alcohol. In this way, it performs better than the Glencairn. Also, note that the letters ‘NEAT’ are etched into the side of the glass. The company is working on a new version with a stem, as well.

I say the NEAT glass is a worthwhile investment for the aficionado looking for a new way to experience whisky, or for the beginner who dislikes the strong smell and burning sensation of strong, straight alcohol.

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  • I think I’ll stick with the Glenacairn design. I see no compelling reason to change. When I don’t have one around or I am at a bar, I ask for a brandy snifter or even a white wine glass will do in a pinch.

  • This post has caused me to change the glassware I use for critical tasting. I formerly used the very nice Waterford 3oz triple shot glasses I received with my wedding registry. After reading the enormous impact on nosing the shape of the glass makes I got a set of Glencairns and found that, indeed, there is an enormous difference. Now I’m going to have to try a NEAT glass too! I was really astounded how magnifying the volume and intensity of the nose allowed me to detect nuances I had previously missed and affected the whole dram as I drank it! Now I have to go back and taste my entire shelf all over again!

  • I’ve been looking for excellent whisky glasses for MONTHS. There’s nothing in my neck of the woods and nobody seems to know where to get them. I’ve even looked at commercial suppliers and come up empty-handed. Looks like buying on-line is the only way to go here. Thanks for the info.

  • I met with George (I’m in vegas) and I was impressed. Like you, I am not sure what to do with them. Being that you don’t get hit with the alcohol I often misjudge how much I have had. BUT I will say that I have revisited some whiskey that I have not been particularly fond of and have found it far more interesting. Currently I am only drinking out of the Neat Glass. It’s also great for any spirit- I found tequila to be exceptionally good as it disperses a lot of the agave smell to get those smaller particles in the schnozz. Pretty fascinating. Definitely a new experience. One of my friends is a tequila manufacturer and he loved it. It also fits well in the hand.
    I’ve got them in the store. The people who try them, buy them. I guess that is the best referral you can get.
    George said evidently wine enthusiast (I think) will be pushing them this fall. At higher pricing, no doubt.

    • Hugh, thanks for the comment! I still primarily use my Glencairns, but I occasionally get out the NEAT glass to get an alternative perspective on a whisky – especially if it’s being elusive. I’m also looking forward to a possible stemmed version.

  • Oh dear, yet another “scientific” glass, based more on claims and hypothesis but not the untested “facts” cited by the manufacturer. I guess his research somehow ignored the need for a stem, lol.

    There is a tremendous article which tested literally hundreds of glasses which represents the opinions and actual experiences of many leading tasters. It is linked at our name above.

    Congratulations to the “Noob” for an honest review which provides a good reality test for the “NEAT” glass. Do read the article and see what other experts think. As for me, something smells about the NEAT, lol…

  • I am looking for a proper glass that I can use in my “rookie” state. Although I have a sniffer or two handy I would very much like a proper glass. The only problem with these is my nose is a little more than most whisky glasses can handle. Could you please do a review of the “standard styles” of glasses should such a thing exist.

    • Hi Jason,
      I recommend Glencairn glasses as the best “beginner” glass. I do all of my tastings and reviews using these glasses. They’re comfortable to hold, they have a tulip shape that properly captures aromas for nosing, and a “good” pour of about 50ml comes to the widest part of the bowl, just like with a wine glass. There are some possibly “better” glasses (apparently small sherry copitas are among the best options), but I don’t really notice much difference between them and the Glencairn. In a pinch, a smallish wine glass also works.

      You should note that straight-sided glasses such as the “standard” rocks glass or tumbler is not very good for scotch (or any whisky) straight, because it does not capture & concentrate aromas – the same whisky that smells like malt and fruit in a tulip-shaped glass will smell “dead” or “flat” in a rocks glass. The rocks glass is really intended for its namesake – drinks with ice. Also, flared glasses such as the large “double shot” glasses a lot of bars serve liquor in do whisky the same disservice – dissipating the aromas. With a $5 shot of vodka, that’s probably what you want to happen, but not so with good whisky. 🙂

  • As I was reading up on the NEAT Glass website, it mentioned that the glass was discovered by glass blowing accident back in 2003… like most good innovation!

    I’m only a year and a half into my whisky adventures, but I’ve found myself taking ever so slight sips of the whisky from the glass so I don’t get as much of a concentrated dose of it over the centre of my tongue. I’m intrigued by the lip on the NEAT and your comment that it helps the liquid flow more evenly across one’s mouth. Sounds like something to try!

    I was also reading that it’s making for a good tasting glass for just about any spirit… not just whisky!

  • We have never limited the use of our glass to whiskey only, and we were the judging glass for the San Francisco spirits competition, the miami rum renaissance and awarded the Beverage Industry News Editors pick for excellence award. We urge you to drink cognac and even your Grand Marnier and absinthe (without diluting) from NEAT. We are seeing many distillers using the glass as a diagnostic to show all aspects of their distillation, and it is appearing in many distillery tasting rooms here in the USA and abroad. Noob, you have always been fair as a reviewer, and while we know there are a lot of differences of opinion out there, we still snicker at those are compelled to weigh in with an opinion of the NEAT glass without ever having tried it. No question the glass affects your baseline, but it really does expose the flaws in a whiskey which have previously hid behind the numbing effects of alcohol. Keep up the good work.

    • I definitely do not nose different whiskies in succession, because there is some factor of “nose fatigue” that might unfairly affect any reviews I might do after the first. I’ve also noticed that my first nosing of any whisky always seems the strongest, most “potent” assemblage of aromas, compared to subsequent nosings during the same session. I haven’t tried resting and returning to the same whisky, but I’d guess it takes 30 minutes or more to “reset”. On the other hand, subsequent nosings of the same whisky often reveal different, more subtle aroma characteristics that I miss during the initial onslaught. I’m guessing that those aroma receptors in my nose fatigue or “adjust” to the strong smells, and then allow me to detect the subtler ones.

  • I have not tried the NEAT glass as I just recently heard of it and am interested. I want to point out that it is not a fair test if you nosed each glass without ample wait time in between. If you nose say a malt whisky in the same say Glencairn glass three times in a few seconds the first nose will have the strongest alcohol. Then you are a little desensitized to alcohol and from the second nose you may detect sweetness like floral or fruit. Then you are a little desensitized to sweet and from the third nose you may sense nuts, chocolate, tobacco, or leather that were hidden by alcohol and sweet. It would be good to try the test again backwards going NEAT glass, then Glencairn, then rocks to confirm that you get the same result.